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Toxic Beauty - 7 Ingredients to Avoid

 

Some beauty ingredients have surprising links to carcinogens

When it comes to putting things into our bodies, we tend to take careful consideration of the ingredients and their origin, but somehow this important moment of reflection often slips us by when it comes to what we’re putting onto them. And while it’s increasingly crucial to check our food labels, we also need to be more discerning when it comes to selecting skin and beauty products. As the largest and most exposed organ in the human body, our skin will absorb whatever we put on or around it, making it especially vulnerable to infiltration by unsafe chemicals. In fact, 60% of what we slather, pat or spray on our skin daily is absorbed into the bloodstream.

It's no secret that most cosmetics contain chemicals, although recognizing their degree of hazard may be as difficult as pronouncing the chemicals themselves. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average woman’s face is exposed to about 168 toxins from the 10-12 products she uses in her daily skincare and beauty regimen (men use about half as many products in their daily routine with an average of 85 toxic ingredients while kids get exposed to approximately 60 ingredients in a typical day). Horrified? So are we! But these alarming numbers can be significantly reduced if we became a little more mindful and educated about the substances we so freely use on our bodies.

To help you detox your beauty cabinet, we’ve compiled a list of seven harmful ingredients you should be wary of before buying your next lipstick, deodorant or face cream. 

Parabens

Parabens are a class of widely used preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast in creams, lotions, ointments, and other cosmetics, including deodorants. Sounds good, right? Not quite, there's more to the story. Parabens contain estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer and have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors. Alarmingly, you can also find these dangerous chemicals in food and pharmaceutical products.

Toluene

Derived from petroleum or coal tar sources, toluene (you may see it on labels listed as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane, methylbenzene), is a strong solvent that can dissolve paint and paint thinner. Commonly found in nail polish, nail treatments and hair color and bleaching products, toluene is a petrochemical that can affect the respiratory system, cause nausea and irritate your skin. Expecting mothers should avoid exposure to toluene vapors as it may cause developmental damage to the fetus. If you’re still unconvinced of its harmful impacts on your health, this potent chemical has been linked to immune system toxicity.

Formaldehyde

A colorless, flammable gas often used in cosmetics to help protect products against contamination by bacteria during storage and continued use. The two known categories of products with the most formaldehyde are hair straightening treatments and nail hardeners.

The most common side effect of formaldehyde in cosmetics is skin irritation, including scalp burns and hair loss. But the major concern is that formaldehyde causes cancer. The National Toxicology Program’s 2011 June report classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen under conditions of high or prolonged exposure—conditions typical for industrial workers and professional groups, including embalmers and even salon workers.

Synthetic colors

If you glance at your product label and notice FD&C or D&C, they represent artificial colors (F — representing food and D&C representing drug and cosmetics). These synthetic colors are derived from petroleum or coal tar source (lovely, isn’t it?). Banned by the European Union, synthetic colors are suspected to be a human carcinogen, a skin irritant and have even been linked to ADHD in children.

Propylene glycol

Commonly used as a skin-conditioning agent, propylene glycol is a synthetic organic alcohol. It has been associated with causing dermatitis as well as hives in humans — sensitization effects can be manifested at propylene glycol concentrations as low as 2 percent! Widely used because of its relatively low cost and versatile nature, it can be found in moisturizers, sunscreen, makeup products, conditioners, shampoo and hair sprays.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

This surfactant appears in more than 90 percent of personal care and cleaning products (think foaming products). SLS’s are known to be skin, lung, and eye irritants. A major concern about SLS is its potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen. These combinations can lead to a host of other issues like kidney and respiratory damage. They can be found in shampoos, body washes, mascaras and acne treatments.

Phthalates

A group of chemicals used in hundreds of products to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. The main phthalates in cosmetics and personal care products are dibutyl phthalate in nail polish, diethyl phthalate in perfumes and lotions, and dimethyl phthalate in hair spray. They are known to be endocrine disruptors and have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls, and reproductive birth defects in males and females. You can spot them in deodorants, perfumes/colognes, hair sprays and moisturizers.

Finally, as a general tip try to always opt for products with as few ingredients as possible. That way, you can rest assured that you’re being exposed to fewer chemicals overall. While change is not always easy, it’s time to apply a more considered approach to our beauty regime. Nourish your skin as you do your body.

Green is beautiful

 – Written by Sofia Sosunov

Smiling Your Way to Wellbeing

 In the midst of hectic schedules, social stresses and the rushed lifestyle associated with modern urban living, it’s easy for negative thoughts to arise and accumulate on our faces. We sulk, scowl and frown to express irritation or frustration when things do not go our way. And while being told to cheer up is the curse of the downturned mouth, smiling amid the mayhem may not only make us appear more approachable but be the key to good health and longevity.

According to Taoism, "emotional intelligence" is the process of recognizing emotions by their effects on the body, and employing exercises that transform negative sentiments into positive life force, or Chi. The life force stems from the vibratory nature of phenomena: the flow and tremoring that is happening continuously at molecular, atomic and sub-atomic levels. One of the most ancient Taoist Inner Alchemy (Neidan) practices, is the "Inner Smile." Normally we think of a smile, as an expression of friendliness or benevolence directed towards other people. But with the Inner Smile meditation, we offer the smile to ourselves, directing it towards our major internal organs. According to the Tao, different physiological systems store different emotions, and therefore organs have different energies. The Inner Smile meditation focuses on five organ systems: the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the liver/gall bladder, and the stomach/spleen. Starting as a mere facial expression, the smile spreads to soften the whole body, dissolving malevolent energy and replacing it with gratitude and serenity, empowering us towards strength and restoration.

While you may be unconvinced of the merits of a simple smile, before you raise a sarcastic eyebrow or pull a frown, you may want to consider the implications. Prominent French physiologist, Dr, Israel Waynbaum, found that facial muscles used to express emotion activate specific brain neurotransmitters. His research shows that frowning triggers the release of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline. Stress doesn't merely turn our moods a little sour, it spikes blood pressure, weakens our immune system, accelerates aging, increases our susceptibility to anxiety and can lead to weight gain (especially around the abdominal area). Meanwhile, the effortless act of smiling changes your brain chemistry. It signals the body to release feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins, which give us a natural high, and help to fight off depression, reduce pain and relax muscles. Smiling also releases immune-boosting T-cells, which defend the body against germs, viruses and bacteria and accelerates healing.

But what if we don’t feel like smiling? Can we fake it until we make it? Although a genuine smile has a deeper impact, a surface smile tricks the brain into producing the same chemicals. And scientific studies have shown that the more we smile, the more we want to smile. As Buddhist monk and global spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

For a detailed guide to the Inner Smile Meditation see:

http://albanyqigong.com/images/Inner%20Smile%20and%20Six%20Healing%20Sounds%20Practice.pdf

 – Written by Sofia Sosunov

Africa’s Beauty Secret: Marula Oil

It’s easy to be a skeptic in the skincare world, where every product is often prefaced by the word “miracle,” and every ingredient seems to possess “age-defying” properties.  But once in a while, something comes along that not only lives up to the hype but is worthy of a permanent spot in our beauty cabinets. Case in point: Marula oil. Hand harvested from the kernels inside the sweet exotic fruit of the indigenous African Marula tree, the multi-purpose oil has been a skincare staple for the Ovambo women in northern Namibia for generations. In fact, the Marula is an African botanical treasure; often regarded as sacred, the tree is imbued with cultural significance, romance, and legend. It grows only in sub-equatorial Africa making the oil a rare commodity. 

But Marula oil is certainly not the first ingredient claimed to soften skin, so what makes it unique? The key to Marula’s outstanding performance is its fine molecular structure which contributes to its effectiveness not only as a skin hydrator but also as a protector. It boasts a high concentration of antioxidants such vitamin E and C (four times as much as an orange), essential amino acids and flavonoids that help cells renew and resist the harmful effects of free radicals in the environment, including UV damage and air pollution. 

Marula Oil is also incredibly rich in essential omega 9 and omega 6 fatty acids, which provide deep, long-lasting hydration and reduce redness while nourishing, healing, and improving the skin’s elasticity. By helping to reduce transepidermal water loss, it increases the overall smoothness of skin. The oil has an appealing, surprisingly lightweight consistency and non-greasy texture and is both fast absorbing and non-comedogenic (it won’t clog pores or lead to blackheads). The indulgent oil sinks deep into the skin, leaving it silky and luminous.

As for who should use Marula oil? It’s suitable (and in fact recommended) for all skin types as it is naturally soothing and effectively combats inflammation.

Here are a few simple ways in which you can integrate the oil-du-jour into your beauty routine:

  • Warm 2–3 drops of oil in the palms of your hands, gently press onto clean, slightly damp face, neck and décolleté.
  • Add a couple of drops of Marula oil to your facial cleanser for added hydration and to offset the drying effect of washing your face.
  • Use as a serum booster under foundation or cream to intensify hydration and restore radiance.
  • Apply a few drops to clean damp hair before blow-drying or styling.
  • Massage oil on your nails to fortify fragile, brittle nails and moisturize the cuticles.
  • Rub all over your body, ideally on slightly damp skin post-shower or bath. 

­– Written by Sofia Sosunov